The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a relatively comfortable position right now. Sitting in 2nd place in the Atlantic division with a 20-12-1 record. The division is so weak that it would take a massive turn of events for the Leafs to not qualify for the playoffs.
That being said, with Auston Matthews out indefinitely, the Leafs' high-scoring offense has run dry, with only 3 goals in their last 3 outings. That includes their first shutout loss Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild.
The Leafs are tied for 3rd in the NHL with 108 goals, so it's not like this is a season-long struggle.
That being said, the Boston Bruins sit 7 points back of the Leafs with 4 games in hand. In not too long, the Leafs could all of a sudden find themselves in 3rd place in the Atlantic, then all of a sudden things won't seem so certain.
With William Nylander and Mitch Marner deep into their sophomore slumps, and teams beginning to figure out the Leafs' power play strategy, Mike Babcock and co. may be forced to make a decision with Matthews that is far from ideal.
Their cushion in the standings affords them the chance to give their superstar the chance to rest and recover fully, but if they lose that cushion, they may be forced to rush him back into the lineup.
A 90% Matthews is still better than most players in the NHL, but that will put a strain and pressure on him that may take a toll on him physically and mentally.
Rushing him back into the lineup can have unintended consequences, like aggravating an injury that hasn't completely disappeared, endangering his entire season.
Let's just hope that the Leafs' young guns figure things out and don't give Babcock a reason to make a tough decision with Matthews.